NaNoWriMo or Bust

Don't be afraid to start over. This time you're not starting from scratch, you're starting from experience.

I started writing Team TaoRuti a year ago tomorrow, hoping to borrow from the NaNoWriMo energy that has propelled me to finish several of my novels. I’d just started a new position on a new project at the day job, so it probably wasn’t realistic to expect to complete the story then. But I would have thought I could’ve finished by now.

And then… 2020.

I’ve said plenty about what we’ve collectively faced this year. And I’ve heard from almost every creative person I know that the overwhelming news cycles have drained them of almost every drop of imagination. (Protests! Wild fires! COVID-19! Lock-down! Stock market crash! Murder hornets! Hurricanes! Police brutality! BLM! Riots! Earthquakes! Typhoons!) There are some dark memes out there pointing out that were 2020 being developed in a writer’s room, any competent show runner would fire everyone and start over, because the tangled story lines are nonsensical as fiction.

Thus has fiction become my retreat. Not the writing of it–I produced nothing new on my stories between February and August–but the reading of it. Goodreads shows I’ve read 105 books so far this year.

Keeping up with research results has been interesting, too. Creating metallic hydrogen could change the way we launch rockets. Perovskite could change how we harvest solar energy. Superconductivity could be in reach with a simple twist of a carbon sheet. Each one of these findings could drive its own story.

There have also been research findings published regarding human history. Looking at the sediment core from Lake Chichancanab, scientists are more confident that drought was what brought the Mayan culture to its knees. Other scientists, looking at Viking DNA, showed significantly more intermixing of southern Europeans and Asians than they had expected.

In modern times, research from the Rand Corporation shows such a significant redistribution of wealth to the already wealthy that the Intelligencer headlined its story on the findings as “Study: Inequality Robs $2.5 Trillion from U.S. Workers Each Year.” In Russia, there are worrying demographic trends that point to a different impact of inequality.

And underneath all of this reporting… our brain has automatic suppressive mechanisms that means we have difficulty perceiving things our brains deem “distracting”.

(Tell that to my brain, which has been distracting me all year!)

So I’m going to join the NaNoWriMo masses again this year. I don’t know that I’ll get all the way to 50K words, but if I could write 25K words in November, I could finally close the book (HA!) on book two of my Planet Seekers series. And I have the tantalizing plotbunny that woke me up a couple weeks back, where the character told me “I chose to become a ghost to solve a mystery.” We’ll see where my creative energy ends up, but that could definitely be a candidate for my next book.

Daily Blessings

"Somebody didn't wake up today, but you did. That's enough reason to stop complaining, and that's enough to be thankful for. Never let your troubles blind you to your daily blessings." -Trent Shelton

Days have a way of catching us between their teeth and grinding us down with their unrelenting sameness at the moment. I was deeply upset when the writers’ retreat cruise Gayla and I had planned to attend at the end of this month was cancelled, and any alternate plans made untenable by the persisting state of being almost locked down. We’re in our sixth month of nearly full-time working from home, and while I very much appreciate the extra hour I get to my days from not having to commute to and from the office, the general oppression in the atmosphere–worry about COVID-19, the economy, the fires on the West Coast, the latest political machinations that neglect to take into account needs outside of those expressed by the billionaire owners of certain key industries–has led to most creatives I know hitting the same kind of stagnation I’ve faced. It feels like any time I’ve “won” by working from home, has been eaten up by reading or gaming. Which ends up feeling like a loss to me.

I finally managed to dig myself out of my complete writing standstill in the past few weeks, and have added a few chapters to Team TaoRuti, as well as have come up with a decent candidate for a back-of-book blurb. I’ve updated the site accordingly, and would appreciate feedback. It’s been 15 months since I released book 1 on the series, and I’d love to make the claim that book 2 came out the next calendar year… but… we’ll see.

I can say that all the advertising from last month was a complete bust. Though it’s possible that it wasn’t the vendors’ fault, given general economic conditions, and specific details of how many people lost their jobs and are on the verge of losing their houses, I will be putting a pause on ad buys for the foreseeable future.

The stark contrast of that economic reality, and the one enjoyed by our plutocrats was described in the real life experience of Douglas Rushkoff… two years ago. Reading the article made eerie echoes with exactly the predictions I’ve been weaving into my scifi stories. For that matter, so does recent reporting about a large-scale basic income experiment in South America.

Research on the intelligence of trees and the deepening of quantum paradoxes that point to certain underlying uncertainties about the “supremacy” of human thought/reasoning/existence also play into my stories.

On the other hand, I resort to complete handwavium about the nature of interstellar travel, given reporting on not only how difficult it is to escape the planet in the first place, but also how unimaginably large the cosmos is.

I’m much more interested in how certain kinds of humans react to having their minds boggled beyond the constraints of their expectations. While this naturally pushes my imagination to where we intersect with technology, (hearkening back to Arthur C. Clarke’s third law that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”) it also means… magic has a place in my scifi. And that’s all I’ll say about how I backed myself out of writing a dystopia that was uncomfortably parallel to our current reality.

Which brings me to the quote at the start of today’s post. Regardless of your stance on religion, I have noticed that since hubs and I have become intentional with our daily prayers/meditations, it’s been easier to heave myself up onto the banks of wonder, where I can give voice to my creativity. Escape the humdrum of “just another day in my {home} office”. I wish the same for you and yours.

Book Review: Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade

Even though I’ve been reading a lot recently, I have backed away from doing many reviews. However, this is one of those times when I’m really glad for having a NetGalley account. I got access to an ARC I’ve been drooling for since Dade first released a preview of the cover on Twitter… some time ago. I’ve read all of her Marysburg and Love Unscripted titles, (and am connected to her on Twitter, where she is nothing but supportive) so I was already sold on the author’s work. Getting the opportunity to be one of the early-adopter cheerleaders for this release is just a bonus for all the hours of reading enjoyment I’ve already gotten from Dade’s writing.

(I’m still side-eyeing whatever marketing “professional” decided to announce this book with “Olivia Dade bursts onto the scene”… As is obvious to anyone with a Goodreads account, Dade has been publishing successfully since at least 2015. She has earned her writing stripes and deserves recognition for how happy she’s made her reading audience over the years.)

This book is a very strong entry into her stable of work. Her protagonists, Marcus and April, have matured enough to begin the process of coming to terms with those characteristics for which they’ve been harassed and put down their entire lives–in his case, dyslexia and shyness, and in hers, being overweight. Both of them have been emotionally abused by their parents for these “shortcomings”, and over the course of the book grow so beautifully together by learning to set appropriate boundaries.

Mix in nerd love about ancient epics, modern TV fandom, and cosplay, and you have a smart story that celebrates intelligence and passion and ambition and individuality in a world that craves simply fitting in. The subtle commentary about how social media fit in our lives, and play an increasingly public role, was also on point:

The account boasted a bright blue bubble with a check inside. An official, verified account, then.

Marcus Caster-Rupp’s account.

The guy playing Aeneas–fucking Aeneas–had tweeted to her. Followed her.

And…he appeared to have–

No, that couldn’t be right. She was hallucinating.

She squinted. Blinked. Read it again. A third time.

For reasons yet unknown, he appeared to have–

Well, he appeared to have asked her out. On a date.

“I read a fic like this once,” she whispered.

Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade

The interstitial chapters sharing their past online correspondence are especially fun. They form an emotional core to the current timeline story that ends up reading like a vicarious diary read-through.

A leitmotif across Dade’s work seems to be an appreciation of literature in general (in this case, the Iliad), and the people who fan-flap about a particular genre, specifically. (That detail has changed to be character-appropriate in the various books, but seems to be a reliable indicator of a Dade creation.) So for me, it feels like the books are targeted directly at my interests.

For anyone who enjoys a contemporary romance that has a light, humorous tone, but engages in meaningful work both on self and partnership, this book should be right up your alley. And if you develop a taste for the author’s voice from this book, don’t despair, you have a significant back catalog to look forward to. In fact, Dade has confirmed that one of the side characters from book 1 is getting their own stand-alone/follow-on story next year, so keep your eyes open for more in this series. I certainly will be.

Viral

You know what I would really like to see go viral? Basic human decency.

Another month has flown by. The days melt into each other with little distinction, and we see far too many viral videos about humans lashing out and beating each other up as they fight the nebulous fear of a virus that is still rampaging across the planet. I’m unbelievably lucky that my job was easy to switch over to working from home–the official authority for which has been extended month by month, and currently rests at the end of October. We’ve been told that unless the numbers change dramatically, we really shouldn’t expect to return full time to the office until sometime in the new year.

It’s amazing that such a large firm has has been able to implement that scale of change so rapidly. I’m seeing more articles that talk about the mental health downsides of this effort. The Guardian described it as the quiet, grinding loneliness. Politico went so far as to predict the death of cities (with their high rents and high stress environments) because so many employers have made this switch, and could therefore allow employees to live where they feel most at home. Meanwhile, the Electronic Freedom Frontier spelled out the dark side of these moves: Companies are so worried that they can’t SEE their workers working, they’re mandating intrusive “bossware“. Bloomberg, on the other hand, speculated that maybe, finally, the pandemic might turn around decades worth of workers’ rights’ and pay erosion. (That last one comes with some fancy, worthwhile charts to help build the case.) The key graf:

Covid helps clarify just how much employers have chipped away at the labor rights and bargaining power that came with the New Deal. Legislation and court rulings have outlawed key organizing and protest tactics, legalized aggressive anti-union efforts, and radically shrunk the range of occupations granted basic labor rights. Companies looking for a short-term jolt to their profit margin have more incentives than ever to hire workers indirectly, keeping payroll and liability off their own books. The pandemic certainly could give employers even more power to set the rules. Or it could give workers a chance to end the heist on a nationwide scale.

Josh Eidelson, “How The American Worker Got Fleeced,” July 2, 2020

As previously reported, for me, being at home all the time has been an unexpected bonanza. I like not having to make excuses about not wanting to leave home or spend time in large groups of people. (I conform significantly to introvert descriptions and apparently have a healthy dose of hermeticism to go with it.)

Until last week, though, all this time at home was not helping me get back in the flow of writing. My Goodreads list of books read so far this year is edging ever closer to 80, and I’ve already overshot my annual goal. It was more comfortable to retreat into other people’s fiction than mine.

My story didn’t help, either, being set in a post-apocalyptic Earth. Finally, I figured out the plot twist that gets me out of that rut and into something more akin to revenge p*rn (though likely not quite as bloodthirsty a scenario as would make hubs happy… but we’ll see how it all plays out – LOL).

I also figured out that listening to binaural music helps keep me focused and able to churn out words.

So I signed up for Virtual Author Book-signing Bingo event on August 29. (Join me: I’ll be ON CAMERA for SIX HOURS!) As a consequence, Planet Seekers: Team Alpha is currently on sale, down to $2.99 on Amazon. I’m testing out layering visibility of this sale via the Dog Days Giveaway and BookSends. Any help you can give with spreading the word would be welcome.

I’d hoped all that effort would spur me on to finish writing book 2 in time to catch some follow-up enthusiasm from new readers of book 1… but work got busy. So… we’ll see how it goes.

Meantime, relevant to my research for the book, an interesting article about the heart of consciousness being frequency/vibration. And some interesting gaps in the understanding we’ve accepted about humanity via the Human Genome Project. Each has its place in my story line and should make for a different kind of cross-over story between scifi and fantasy–and naturally, also, romance, because I need to make sure that even if only in fiction, there is somewhere a mental model for what a happy ending might look like in disastrous circumstances.

Here’s hoping the next month helps us all find some light at the end of the tunnel, so we can focus more intentionally on our hopes and dreams rather than the catastrophizing that is being forced on us.

Summertime, and the Living is Crazy

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly NOW. Love mercy NOW. Walk humbly NOW. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

It’s coming up on that time of year when I mark the passing of yet another milestone of life on this planet. This summer, given the various upheavals of COVID-19, adjusting to a long-term stance of working from home (NPR ran an interesting piece about the likelihood that most of us going to be making that shift permanently), and the protests calling for police reform and recognition of racial injustices, it doesn’t feel like there’s much to celebrate, let alone a birthday. Especially the last birthday of my fourth decade.

While I still haven’t found my own creative zone, hubs is chugging along with his. He created a lyric video for the first single off his new album, honoring his brother as an interpretive dancer: https://youtu.be/foZ6f6mHzV4. (The single is now also for sale via pretty much any channel you wish, too: iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc.)

I have apparently been profoundly inculcated with the belief in “productivity” that drives my own value. So it was interesting to read an article in the Atlantic that talks about the historic shift that drove the assignment of dollar values to everything. And then there are the neuroscience studies that show just how flawed human perception is; our brains are designed to tell stories, largely based on past experience, none of which manage to faithfully portray reality with anything approaching reliability.

Those underpinnings put a different spin on history. The arrogance driving colonial rule in India, as described in a book review by the New York Review of Books, the article about the godfather of sexist pseudoscience, and a different article about the Enlightenment’s Dark Side, all reflect obvious failures of both logic and empathy. Is it possible that statistics could help provide clarity? There was a whole article about four charts that reflected the current problems with policing that could provide some insight. But that puts me back in memory to the old quote about “lies, damn lies, and statistics”–that has a slightly different inflection on that earlier article about how Americans value almost everything in terms of finance. There is an underlying lie in saying a human is in anyway reflected in a dollar value.

In the face of all that, my optimistic nature inclines to the Polish phrase Jakoś to będzie. Thus I was reminded of my youthful aspiration to speak as many languages as possible, and found it an intriguing coincidence that there’s a whole conference dedicated to that pursuit.

So I will continue to interrogate my own blinders and biases–and encourage those around me to do so as well–and hope that someday I will find my way back to the energy necessary to continue with my creative writing.

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